That's one hypothesis to explain the spell of glamour that Rick Warren has cast recently. Despite what you might have heard, Warren has never publicly voiced support for civil unions, and his church refuses to accept lesbian and gay members.
That's the truth. Now let's take a closer look at the glamour.
Reporters and pundits throughout the mainstream media have repeated over and over again the incorrect assertion that Warren supports civil unions. There appears to be a single source document for this assertion, an interview with Warren conducted on December 15th by Beliefnet.
Here's the portion of the interview that continues to be cited:
BELIEFNET: One controversial moment for you in the last election was your support for proposition 8 in California. ... Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?
WARREN: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.
BELIEFNET: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?
WARREN: You know, not a problem with me.
In their enthusiasm to be contrarian -- or perhaps just out of unwarranted optimism -- a significant number of gay bloggers also picked up on this quote and other parts of the interview used them to argue that this mythical support constitutes a point of agreement with Warren upon which we should build.
The problem is that, as of yet, there is no actual area of agreement. Warren's words have been taken out of context by both the mainstream media and the gay bloggers and they have ignored the clarifications on his remarks that he submitted to Beliefnet on December 15th. The truth is that Warren never meant to imply that he supported civil unions at all.
Take a look at the clarifications:
Re: BELIEFNET: ...Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?
I now see you asked about civil UNIONS -and I responded by talking about civil RIGHTS. Sorry. They are two different issues... a civil union is not a civil right. Nowhere in the constitution can you find the "right" to claim that any loving relationship [is] identical to marriage. It's just not there.
Re: BELIEFNET: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?
I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. If I am willing to pay for it, I should be able to put a friend, partner, relative, or stranger on my coverage. No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital.
In other words, Warren supports the ability of lesbian or gay men to put their partners -- or even perfect strangers -- on their insurance coverage and to visit one another in the hospital just like any "friend" might be able to do. By any definition, that falls far short of the marriage-in-all-but-name set of rights that most people imagine when they think about civil unions or domestic partnerships. And it certainly falls short of the protections that lesbian and gay people need to protect our loved ones and our families.
Warren goes even further in his clarifying remarks and, yet again, repeats his comparisons of same-sex marital relationship to incest:
1. God...has clearly and repeatedly said that he created sex exclusively for husbands and wives in marriage....
2. God gives me the free choice...so I must allow others to have that same free choice...In America, people already have the civil right to live as they wish.
3. If...homosexuals or anyone else think they are smarter than God and chooses to disobey God's sexual instructions, it is not the US government's role to take away their choice. But neither is it the government's role to classify just any "loving" relationship as a marriage...Incest is not marriage...
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of legal recognition for same-sex relationships.
Most recently, Warren is getting a lot of play in the media for his comment, "I also happen to love gays..." and, at the event during which he made this remark, apparently cast his glamour over Melissa Etheridge and her wife Tammy Lynn, who are out stumping on his behalf on the news and in the blogosphere.
The best way to understand Warren's remark about supposedly loving "gays" is to look at his own church's policy statement about lesbian and gay people [note: this citation is from a secondary source since the primary source to which it refers has apparently been taken offline sometime on or after December 21st]:
What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
The Bible very clearly says that homosexuality is a sin.
...We must not act as if homosexuality is the only serious sexual sin, and we must not act as if homosexuality is not a serious sexual sin.
I've heard it asked, "Isn't being homosexual something that a person is physically born with?" First of all, there are absolutely no facts to support this claim. From time to time studies have been reported in the news that seemed to indicate this, but every one of these studies has proven to be wrong. Secondly, even if some physical difference were discovered, it would be no excuse for sin. We know that some people can develop a stronger physical addiction to alcohol than others, but that's obviously no excuse for living an alcoholic lifestyle.
...Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one's life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church. That does not mean they cannot attend church -- we hope they do! God's Word has the power to change our lives...
It's the same-old, same-old "love the sinner/hate the sin" rationale. Nothing is new here -- except for now Warren has added added alcoholism to the list of disordered behaviors to which he has compared lesbian and gay marital relationships.
Certainly, there is no "love" in the sense of recognizing lesbian and gay people as people whose sexual orientation is an integrated part of their humanity as a whole or as first-class citizens whose adult relationships and families deserve equal recognition under the United States Constitution.
Now, let me be clear: I would love to be wrong.
I would love nothing more than to hear Rick Warren overtly and publicly express his support for full legal recognition for same-sex couples at a state and federal level under any name. I would love for the fact that Saddleback Church decided to remove such divisive language from its website to be an indication that Warren is re-thinking his understanding of what it means to be gay or lesbian.
But -- until I hear a clear, unambiguous statement from Rick Warren's own lips to this effect -- I am protecting my neck and keeping garlic and a wooden stake handy.
Follow Leah McElrath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leahmcelrath